Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Organizing My Thoughts

I like to say that my mind is like my computer. Often there are many programs open at once and they are all fighting for my time and attention.  In an effort to avoid a complete brain freeze, I open one more. My journal file. Writing with no purpose is  one of the most productive things I can do. It is then and only then I am able to make sense of the conversation in and around me and figure out what I need to do next.

I have been keeping a journal since the time it was called a diary and came with a lock and key so my parents could not read my deepest, darkest secrets.  I don't remember when I started but I do know I have boxes of them stored away in an array of color and texture. It has been suggested that I burn them, but I prefer not to. Periodically I dip into one, look at the month and year and try to remember where I was before I try to decipher my handwriting.

When I was researching the nineties for my novel, I pulled several out. I wanted to see what insight I could get into the time and my mindset. I was straightening up the other day and found one of those journals open to August 1995. These are some excerpts from the entry on that page.

I've always said that when I stopped having fun it would be time to leave this job.
Write. I want to write. I believe that to be my God given talent.
I am afraid, afraid of finding out I'm not as talented as I think and afraid of finding out I might be.


Pretty wild huh? Apparently I have always known I wanted to write. But I don't remember admitting it out loud to anyone, even to my journal. And certainly not fifteen years ago!  I don't remember letting the Universe know I was ready to leave that job.  But apparently I did and while I was too scared to say it aloud, I was not as intimidated to write it down.

As it turned out, while I did not leave the industry, I did leave that company less than two years later. I tried rejuvenation instead of complete reinvention and segued from radio to television. But I was still a long way from writing much of any place but those journals.

Now Don Draper is keeping a journal. Yes, there is much about the world of Mad Men I love. From the time frame to the depiction of the advertising industry, to the place of women in it and the subtle acknowledgments while things have changed in the world, they have not changed as much as we like to believe. And now I love the use of the journal.

"My mind is a jumble. I cannot organize my thoughts." - a Don Draper entry


Mad Men Season 4 Episode 9



Don is trying to get clear. There is no one he can completely trust and feel safe with to share any of it. So he is writing. His is a spiral notebook with no lock and key and no computer password. He keeps his hidden between the folds of his newspaper.

It's an excellent device for the show. We can understand better who the 'real' Don Draper is while he remains a mystery to the other characters. The 'real' Don Draper is more interesting and even more complex than we had imagined. But isn't that what happens when you reveal your true self?

The thing about journal writing is that it helps you to get clear. I've never completed an entry not feeling lighter and less burdened. It's a discovery process to your inner self. And if you are a pack rat like me and hold on to them, sometime when the future is now, you find out you have been on a path to here for longer than you thought.

But the real key is what you do after organizing your thoughts. Do you close the cover and forget about it for a decade or so or do you take a step forward immediately and do something? Or like Don Draper, do you hide it in some not so secret place, because the truth is you really want it to be read?

Do you keep a journal?
Is it is easier for you to express your thoughts by writing them or speaking them?
What do you do to organize the chatter in your mind?
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